Fairfield teens welcome new skate park
Members of Fairfield's skateboarding community were beaming with pride Monday afternoon during a dedication of the new skate park, which is less than a month away from being skate ready.
There's a bowl with various twists and turns, a pyramid, a quarter pipe, camel humps, a pole jam, a railing to grind on and a "sidewalk" with waves in it. When all the work is completed there will be roughly 10 different features -- including a set of stairs -- and Fairfield's youth will be able to transition from one obstacle to the next fluidly. This is no linear skate park, like the prior one the town had, where skaters went back and forth in a straight line from ramp to ramp, according to 14-year-old Greg Santiago.
"The old one wasn't a very good skate park so a lot of people were skateboarding downtown," he said. However, skating downtown had its drawbacks. Sometimes police officers would write teens' names down, some youth were fined and allegedly, certain officers were rather rude in their approach when telling the teens they had to leave private property.
Santiago said there was one time he was told he couldn't even skate on the sidewalk.
"It was getting pretty bad. We had to go to other towns," he said. Trevor Bradford, a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, said he and friends would go as far as North Haven, Bristol, even New York City, to get some good skating in. Locally, Fairfield's teens sometimes went to the skate park at Seaside Park in Bridgeport but that park pales in comparison to what's being constructed in Fairfield across the street from the entrance to Jennings Beach.
In addition to getting a quality park, the youth that will be skating there played a significant part in the process. Lou Heumann, mother of two skaters -- and credited as the driving force behind the new skate park -- said Monday, "The boys designed the park. They came to all the meetings and they spoke in front of the Board of Finance and they were very articulate. And they spoke from their heart and I think that's what got this project moving. They sold themselves to the town."
Fifteen-year-old Mike Iuraduri estimates he and his friends went to 10 meetings, including a meeting with First Selectman Ken Flatto. Flatto was at Monday's gathering, which included town officials from the Public Works and Parks and Recreation Departments, skaters, parents, members of the Parks and Recreation Commission, and employees of Breaking Ground, the Cranston, Rhode Island-based company that is building the park.
"Whether you're 10 years old or 15 or 18 years old, this kind of activity is great for the mind, great for the body and it's a positive activity," said Flatto, who added that skateboarding has been proven to be safer than football, safer than soccer, "safer than any other sport in town."
Even so, skate park users will be required to wear pads and helmets. Gerry Lombardo, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said the new park has everything the kids could want to meet their needs -- stairwells, ramps, rails -- so "the library should be safe and our gazebo should be safe."
"I can't wait to skate on it," said Will Whelan during Monday's ceremony. Some didn't wait. After a worker tested out the wavy sidewalk adjacent to the top of the bowl (which looks like an indoor pool without water), a few teens picked up the skateboard and did a test run themselves.
Lombardo, concerned about the teens' safety, asked them to wait until everything is done and they have their protective gear on. The bowl is virtually completed but a narrow strip at the bottom of it has not been filled in with cement yet. This is done so youths don't sneak in and use it before the finishing touches are completed.
Flatto said Monday's skate park dedication was sort of like a new ball field being dedicated. It's a place where Fairfield's youth can come and exercise and partake in a common interest. Public Works Director Rich White said the new park will have less of an impact on neighbors, as the cement environment will be a lot quieter than the asphalt and wood ramps of the old skate park.
The project was approved by the town's funding bodies a couple of years ago at a price of roughly $225,000. Flatto said that was a rather minimal cost for a community benefit that will serve about 1,000 people. It will likely serve many more than that. White, impressed with the craftsmanship, said this park will probably last for 100 years.
Though the park will be ready for skating -- and rollerblading -- on Thanksgiving, landscaping work will not be completed until the spring.
Bradford said the completion couldn't come fast enough. Everyone's itching to use it. Iuraduri said the skaters had all the influence in the park's layout and Heumann said Monday it's to the "Parks and Rec's credit that they let them design this park." There were three design meetings alone, she said.
Sam Batterson, owner of Breaking Ground, said youth in other communities have been given opportunities for design input but in Fairfield's case, the teens took their opportunity and ran with it.
"Here they seem to be a little more in tune with what they wanted," he said. "They had great suggestions, great ideas. They provided details on top of a lot of enthusiasm. These kids were really exceptional."
Heumann said a quality skate park was a long time coming.
"Fairfield does a good job with traditional sports but not so much with non-traditional sports," she said. "Now they'll have this beautiful state-of-the-art park where they can practice their art."
She added it will help get kids "off the sofas, away from the TV screen and outside."